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Long Term Spousal Support – California’s 10-Year Rule

long term spousal supportLong term spousal support and celebrity couples. What do the following couples all have in common?

  • Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner;
  • Jenny Garth and Peter Facinelli;
  • Idina Menzel and Taye Diggs;
  • Courtney Cox and David Arquette.
  • Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman;
  • Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin.

If you guessed that they are all divorced, you are only half right. There is more to the story here, and it has to do with California law.

Long Term Spousal Support – The 10-Year Rule

When Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck officially called it quits, it was precisely one day after their 10-year anniversary. Coincidence? Maybe. In California, there is some method to the madness of many couples who decide to end their marriages just after the 10-year mark. It has to do with spousal support, and for the lesser earning spouse, remaining married for any time over 10 years changes the statute in connection with long-term spousal support. In the case of the celebrities listed above, each couple lasted just past 10 years.

Understanding Long Term Spousal Support

California law (Family Code Section 4336(a)) provides:

“Except on written agreement of the parties to the contrary or a court order terminating spousal support, the court retains jurisdiction indefinitely in a proceeding for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation of the parties where the marriage is of long duration. A marriage of long duration is a marriage that lasts for more than 10 years.”

So, what does all that mean you ask? Does it mean a spouse could conceivably have to pay the other support for life? No. Not necessarily. What it does mean is that both parties in a marriage lasting more than 10 years are on the hook to each other for the rest of their lives as to the possibility of the court awarding spousal support to one spouse or the other unless an exception applies. When you think about it, that is a huge flying monkey on your back.

At any time after the divorce, either party can go to the other and request spousal support. Of course, the criteria and elements of an award of spousal support must be met for the spouse to prevail, but imagine a situation where both former spouses are making the same income. Ten years later one former spouse becomes disabled while the other’s income has steadily increased. Unless the disabled former spouse has remarried, or the supporting former spouse has died, they can knock on the door of the other and request spousal support.

So, the only ways this monkey flies away is if the former spouse requesting support has remarried, either spouse has died, or the parties agree to terminate spousal support at the time of their final judgment. In a marriage over 10 years, the court does not have authority on its own to terminate spousal support at judgment, however the parties may agree to do so.

Additional Long Term Spousal Support Considerations

In addition to the length of the marriage, there are many factors the court considers in ordering support and every case is decided on its own merits.

Some of these factors found in California Family Code Section 4320 include:

  • The marital standard of living – essentially the supported spouse is entitled to maintain their station in life they had during the marriage.
  • The marketable skills of the supported party.
  • Age and health of the parties.
  • Ability of the supporting party to pay support.
  • Any other factors the court determines just and equitable.

In the case of Affleck and Garner, that could amount to a significant amount of money, since Ben was pulling in about $105 million and Jen was earning just about $60 million at the time of their divorce.

Your Long Term Spousal Support Arrangements

Although the amount of money involved in your divorce may not be similar to the numbers Ben and Jen were juggling, at Beck Law P.C., we are dedicated to getting every penny we can for you. Whether you were married for 10 days or 10 years, we will fight to secure the best possible outcomes in your divorce. The Santa Rosa family law office of Beck Law P.C., is located at 2681 Cleveland Avenue, south of the Empire College School of Law, and north of Coddingtown Mall. If you are a resident of Mendocino County, Sonoma County or Lake County California, contact our Santa Rosa office for a confidential consultation today.

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